Category Archives: Food

On Silage

You may read this, and I hope it happens, and feel a wave of nostalgia at the image of the pit. ‘Come down off that, you’ll tear the plastic!’ Personally, as a city girl, I feel robbed of the endless days running over tyres and sliding down plastic. As the country mother, I feel the sheer dread of the forty foot drop over the top of the pit. As the farmer’s wife, I breathe deeply with relief at the mountain of silage ahead of the cows for the winter.

It’s done. The silage is in. The week was spent busily feeding ‘silage’ men and keeping children inside the gate. As you can imagine,  the small boys just wanted to be on the road looking at the huge machinery bringing the grass into the pit. ‘Come in off the road!’ By Thursday, the men were on top of the huge mound rolling down the plastic to cover this year’s pit. Tyres were piled on top on a blustery June week to keep the plastic down and weights were placed around the border to ensure it stayed put. In it’s winter home, the grass sealed in plastic without air will become pickled in it’s own juices.

The tractors on the road are fewer, the slurry needs spreading on the bare root fields after mowing. The farmer is happy with the crop this year, knowing that he’ll peel back the plastic slowly this winter and with the loader of his tractor, chomp into the mound to feed his cows. Phew.


And the living ain’t easy. I don’t want to give up I think as I’m punching the air in the pantry. I’ve come to hide to take several deep breaths instead of throwing a tantrum myself at my longing for one peaceful dinner.

One peaceful dinner where the baby doesn’t throw his spoon on the floor with a giggle, twenty times. One peaceful dinner where my toddler sits at the table and eats. One peaceful dinner where I’m not lecturing the six year old on the value of eating meat and vegetables. One peaceful dinner where we chat, dissect our day, eat our meal. Imagine, all of us eating and enjoying our meal. And by one peaceful dinner I mean, one whole mealtime from lift of fork to final quiet burp without a spillage, a tantrum, a sigh or a complaint. Just one.

Let’s face it, it would be easier to put on the TV, put them in front of it, chat to the husband and let them eat whatever. But I won’t give up!

Now for the science bit.

Research says. Research says. Obesity. Research. You can skip this bit if you want. High achievers. Dinner together. The experts say. Research on diabetes asserts. Obesity. Family bonding. More research. Seriously, how are we supposed to digest?

Look, I’m not looking for Walton like family meals, ha ha happy nudging and joshing each other. I just want a peaceful enough dinner. Does it happen? Will they reach a reasonable age where it just clicks. I’m not looking to hear a hearty laugh as they pass the potatoes, just one meal where we don’t look like one of the bad families from Nanny 911 or what have you.

I can see her now, the Nanny Lady. Anne, your mealtimes are just crazy. You’ve got to get this together, you can do this. Now, this is the naughty step, come to eye level with them and explain and that is where I lose her. Put them on the naughty step at dinner, I’m hungry. Eye level, I’m hungry. Explain? I’m hungry Nanny. And the question on everyones lips is ‘Does Nanny 911 actually have kids?’ Just saying.

What makes the whole situation worse in a farmhouse, is that we often have another man who works on the farm joining us at mealtimes. He’s a part of the furniture around here, we consider him a friend but it is not easy trying to discipline your children in front of someone else. It often makes the situation more fraught. There we are, trying to make idle chat about the weather, grass and greyhounds (don’t ask) while simultaneously trying to get food into three young boys. Honestly. Why haven’t I been canonized? And you know, that they will be worse because they think they will get away with more. Sometimes, I think If he could pick up his plate and go off and eat alone, I think he would. I would. Poor man. Poor us.

I know I can say this to you. I know if you have children under seven, no, eight even, that they can be hard work at dinner times. I know you won’t judge me.  If they’re not, knock yourself out, feel as smug as you like, but please, for the love of God, just don’t call Nanny 911, I promise I’ll eat all my dinner.

Bacon and Cabbage

How could you like a dish that promised to put ‘hairs on yer chest’? I hated the smell of Bacon and Cabbage. Nasty green curly leaves soaking in ugly water, a dish for men. Cork city on Sundays after mass reeked of the stuff, city mothers everywhere plaumausing their spouses and sons (a bonus if your daughter liked it) with bacon that knew certain death by boiling.

It was a dish I had banished to the recesses never to be cooked by my fair hand, not in my kitchen, not at my dinner table. When I was single. Then comes the handsome lump of a husband who loves bacon and cabbage and you ignore him for the first couple of months. He’ll have to be satisfied with the memory of the smell of it from his youth. Not in my kitchen, not by my fair hand. You know what’s coming, resignation.

So, darling like, I asked my husband’s mother how he liked his bacon and cabbage. I might have been gushing, it was the honeymoon period. ‘I was thinking of making him bacon and cabbage, how does he like it?’ My first mistake was asking her how he liked it instead of how to make it.  It was like I had just declared my undying love for her son at her threshold, Oprah style. Not very North Kerry this heart on your sleeve lark I can tell you. The poor woman wasn’t prepared for it, she was indignant, I was mortified, she rattled something about bay leaves and onions to get rid of me and I, pretending to listen, skulked as fast as I could out of the kitchen, red faced and none the wiser on the boiled bacon front.

It took a while to get the hang of it but I think I might have perfected it to the point of cheering him up on a cold March day when he’s had little sleep and in need of a restoring bowl of his favourite dish. I realize that on reading this, you’re thinking I’m a 1950’s housewife daring you to make your husband happy and you could be right that I’m be putting the woman’s liberation moment back a hundred years or so but I’ll take my chances;

Bacon and Cabbage; Love on a plate.

This is one of those dishes that looks after itself. Technically, you should boil the bacon alone first and pour the first boiling of water away to take away the first blast of salt. I put carrots and onions roughly chopped into a big pot along with the lump of bacon and cover it with water. Add in a half handful of black pepper corns and two bay leaves. Leave it boil away, largely ignored until it starts to smell nice and it feels like a cooked slice of bacon when you insert the knife. (It could take from 40 minutes to an hour. You know yourself). For the last twenty minutes, add in the cabbage leaves and a good knob of butter. Why not? The bacon is served sliced hiding under cabbage, delicate onions and carrots alongside a heap of buttery potato mash with juice poured on top. Oh and don’t throw away the ugly water, you can use it as stock in tomorrow’s soup.

It’s boiling away here and it smells less like Sunday after Mass and more like a Kerry farmhouse on a Spring day, delicious. So there you are, that will put hairs on yer chest and may I add, it might just put a pep in your step.

Breaking Bread

It’s time to break bread. Now, if reader you find yourself in front of a farmer, let’s say, at an altar, anytime soon, listen carefully. You may not know it, but unknowns to you, he is going to craftily get you to bake him fresh bread every second day. You heard it here first.

At first, there’s outrage. ‘What d’ya mean your mother bakes you fresh bread?’

Then there’s denial. He couldn’t possibly want me to bake brown soda from scratch?

Followed by compromise. Look darling, this bread company delivers really delicious bread. And it’s fresh.

He says nothing (Watch out for the quiet ones).

Ok, I’ll try it once.

This is tasty. What if I were to add some honey for a bit of sweetness.

It’s missing something. One Egg.

And colour. A spoon of sunflower oil.

He still says nothing. There is, it seems, the beginning of a wry smile. And a habit is forming.

A really hot oven and the smell of baking bread rises above the noise and farm odours. A dish of water at the bottom of the oven and the bread is moist.

Eight years have passed.

Then comes the little voice that says ‘I love it when you put brown bread and jam in my lunch box.’

And the ‘don’t you make a lovely loaf’ from visitors.

‘Mommy bown bed.’

When the milk cheque is seeping out through the holes of the purse, it’s less expensive and it might just keep the doctor’s bills down.

And then there are the days with three children and getting to a shop when you live in the middle of a field seems impossible and you realize it’s just easier to put on the oven.

If you let the a jug of milk out for a couple of nights, it’s butter milk and that’s when your bread is so soft it brings a tear to the farmer’s eyes.

And then, you know he’s got you. Listen carefully to those vows. He might just whisper ‘In sickness as in bread’ while you stand there grinning and nodding at the cat who just got the cream.

Chocolate Icecream

I caught you. Just had to mention homemade chocolate icecream. Works every time. Although, this is not a foodie blog, the writer loves food and I should hope the reader does too. By the by, why do I write it? I write it because a). I’ve always loved writing and b). I love talking. And you keep listening. A one way conversation. That said, you’re always welcome to talk back (ah go on).

So our lovely Adelaide is making her way back to France next week and there will be tears. A lot. There may be tantrums, pleading and wailing in Cork airport. She will be missed, not only for her kindness and love but also for her crêpes. So to thank her for putting up with us for the eight heaven sent weeks in which she gently accompanied us through the first two months of Anthony’s life, we’re having a party, funnily enough a crêpe party. Honestly, she keeps putting the crêpe pan down but somehow it manages to hop back into her hand. Magic.

As it’s her leaving do, we, the Hearthill crew, are going to help out. All heart, literally. Our contribution; Hearthill chocolate icecream. The cows are grazing outside the window (see image attached) this morning and we are using their delicious milk and cream. Thank you girls. The mix is ready and about to go into the freezer and later in celebration of the lovely French girl who got the farmer’s wife back on her feet, it will melt onto authentic Briton crêpes alongside strawberries. Adelaide will forever have a place at our table and in our chocolate and crêpe loving hearts. Toujours.

Mother’s Day

The first day I realized I could do this mothering bit was on Mother’s day, 2009. Philip was six weeks old. I had him dressed up in his finery, placed him in his red pram and ventured the Listowel Farmer’s Market which has since become a weekly treat for young Brosnan boys.  First it was Philip, now Daniel and I wonder who will be next to join our merry jaunt?

On that Mother’s day, some five years ago, I didn’t want conversation; it was a test. Could I get him out in the world and keep him safe? Trepidation. I was weak. If someone looked in the pram, I held my breathe for their judgment. Was he tiny? Cold? Please, just say handsome. I was missing my own mother acutely having just moved to the countryside and therefore felt very uncertain as I took tiny steps into this unknown world of motherhood practically blindfolded. So after hearing some praise, I bought some daffodils to place on my pram. A picture of peace, daffodils to remember the day.

I decided Philip might like to treat me for Mother’s day so we went to the Listowel Arms Hotel. Looking for reassurance, I asked the lady at reception if I could feed him. As only another mother who spots a nervous first timer can, she leads me to an inviting foyer with black and white chequered tiles and dainty tea setting. I feed my handsome little boy and tuck him under my arm lovingly while I finish my first cup of ‘civilized’ coffee since giving birth.  Philip stares up at me in awe while we share a peaceful moment in the warm foyer.

It was a little step for woman and baby but a giant step for this first time mother. The ladies in the Arms know us now and I have it timed. These days, I waddle to the counter with young Daniel, order a coffee, some scones and half a glass of milk (so as not to spill!). The natives smile at my jam-smeared son’s face and we flick through the pages of his latest ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ comic. I know I need to finish my coffee by the last story.  I do so in order to maintain some semblance of civilization in this busy mothering life.

The boys, as gentlemen in training(!), somehow know that this is a big deal to their quaint mother and oblige more often than not to humour me for the quarter of an hour it takes to have that coffee before running wildly, as is right, back into their world.  Somehow along the way, my young trainees have guided me, though not always gently, along this mothering route and I smile at the memory of the terrified young mother who had just discovered the delight of a stolen moment of calm with a young son.

Happy Mother’s Day to you who are, loves or remembers a beloved mother.

Dinners – Moveable Feasts

A trend swept through Ireland in the ’80’s leaving us innocent and dreamy city girls who read everything in the local library, fodder for the future farmers of Ireland. The trend was country and it’s leader was Alice Taylor.  Alice Taylor, and don’t get me wrong, the lady is still a hero of mine, has a lot to answer for. I ravished her books like a grass starved heifer; Longed for the day when I would inherit an auntie’s tea set for Stations, bought all she was selling on the frolicking through the countryside front, and so, fed on a diet of “To School Through the Fields,” my lovely farmer SAW ME COMING.  

No amount of literary loveliness could prepare me for the drudgery of cooking the dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and I have to admit am pretty good at it, not surprising considering the amount of practice I get. I’m not even talking about the scary silage dinners, nope, just your everyday dinner. I know my city sisters are equally afflicted because let’s face it, no matter how many exceptions you are going to throw at me, we girls do the majority of the cooking. A hangover from a past life living as a student in France and Italy has left me pernicky about cooking from scratch, always on the look out for good ingredients so mea culpa, I’ve asked for it. I still have the same ten things I make over and over but I like to know that in the half an hour I allot myself for cooking the dinner, it is well made and tasty. But it’s the everydayness of it. Luckily, I’m not even dealing with fussy eaters (though they do cross the threshold on occasion), I’m talking about the routine of it.

Farmers by nature are creatures of habit. It took me six torturous months to get my man out of eating his dinner at one o’clock. And that was only because it suited our family timetable better (see I’m still trying to justify it). Added to this, the men (often two but it can be more), take off their wellies and sit down to eat as formally as they ate in the ’50’s. So I find myself serving food up to men, who in fairness, come in from difficult labour themselves to rest their weary bones in my dining room for a while. And so it falls to me to give them a decent meal and send them on their way. It’s the setting the table, putting out the cups of milk or water, handing out the dinner, making the tea and biscuits or the odd dessert that make the whole process a bit of an ordeal. I have tried on occasion to make it easier but nought has worked thusfar. My latest endeavor has me roping in the children to help out. ‘Philip the table!’, ‘Daniel the cups!’,  Just in the last week, Philip who will go along with any make-believe adventure has come to answer to ‘service’ if I cast him as the waiter!

Lately, I did reread my well-thumbed “School Through the Fields” and did find hints of the drudgery in amongst the fields and I realize now, that my younger self was blissfully unaware (as one should be at a young age) of real-life down on the farm. For better though, farming households throughout the country are changing and the mealtime routine that for many years was set in stone is now evolving to suit today’s farming family. Alas, for this girl in wellies, for a while longer,  I remain for the most part in the heart of my kitchen dreaming up new ways to make mealtimes easier. Garçon!